Getting into photography for me was a process of tinkering and curiosity. I found an old camera and started experimenting with it in high school. But my tinkering started years before when I was in elementary school.
My first tinkering memory is from my grandma's house. They recently purchased a VCR, but it wasn't working quite right. So I fiddled, clicked a few buttons and - VIOLA - it was fixed. A few years later I was tinkering with the stereo system and accidentally fixed that, too. I remember my parents asking how I knew what to do to fix it ... my reply was an adolescent shoulder shrug, or something like it, because I had no idea. I just tinkered my way into the solution.
And I've been tinkering ever since. Tinkering with business start-ups, website design, painting. If it grabs my attention I'll tinker away. Sometimes for fun and temporary amusement, and other times it develops, you know, into my life's work (like photography).
To this day, when people ask me, like my parents did, how I knew to do XYZ, my response hasn't changed much: "I don't know. Got curious and tried a few things." That's not to say that all my tinkering is "successful"--there was the failed ad sales job, and the sports physical therapy internship (I nearly fainted at my own broken finger). But I can see how those experiments led me to where I am today and I'm grateful.
Im curious though why we've made it so difficult to fail in our society when the best entrepreneurs and life game-changers have royally blown it, and later written best-selling books on the topic. And I wonder, what holds you back from tinkering away at your curiosities? What could happen if you did? And perhaps more importantly, what will happen if you don't?
I'm angry with myself for the times I've let myself believe that creativity is a luxury, that it's a wasteful expense, and that it's completely unproductive. But here's the rub: as much as those thoughts are lies, there's a little truth in there, too, because we don't live in a utopian society. This is the paradox I'm learning to embrace in spiritual direction.
Just this morning I was talking with a person who was born, raised, and currently lives in Mexico. He was telling me that his city (and the larger culture of Mexico) doesn't have room for creativity or art. He said that in Mexico's second largest city there is only one functioning theater house. He said the "middle-class" don't have the funds to afford such "luxuries." And yet he believes it is a tragedy that it is inaccessible to everyone because it's so necessary for human flourishing to engage with beauty and art. There it is: it's necessary, but it's an economic luxury.
Therein lies the problem: due to economic realities we've elevated art to the elite. The solution is moving towards taking art-making and art-engaging back to the people.
For the people who need beauty the most--because it gives hope, encourages innovation, and creates more connected communities--have the least access to art. It's being taken out of education, and some museums are moving to "for profit" models of keeping their doors open. And those who have the most access to these galleries, museums, cathedrals, and opera houses have intellectually removed art from its context as a tool to lead to revelation, creativity, and awareness to the realm of anesthetized aesthetics.
So we need to do something dangerous: we need to create covertly together in our communities. We need to subtly and courageously bring beauty with us. We need to lean in to our creativity and show it off to the world. We need to spread the contagion of our unabashed and unashamed art-making. Dangerous not because it's life-threatening, but because it can be life-altering to you and those around you.
Think of the places in your community and life that are in need of beauty. Maybe it's at work, or in a public space where you live. Here are a few simple ways we can say yes today and take action:
What else?!?! I'm sure you all have a million great ideas. Share them with all of us in the comments here or on my Facebook page. I can't wait to hear what you come up with.
Excuse me, but I'm going to cough all over you in this post today (#sorrynotsorry). I want to expose you to the contagion of creativity right now because I was re-infected this weekend by an artist named Kiel Johnson. During his talk at the CCCA conference he said he was infected by creativity and so he wanted to cough on us, lick us on the cheek, and do whatever he had to do to see it spread. Watching him share his passion it was hard to not get drawn in and want to cue up to be "coughed on" like a blessing by this passionate innovator.
Below is a short video about a project that kicked off his recent series of work: creating art with others. In this case, Kiel was invited to create with a group of high school kids and they kind of ended up taking over the(ir) world.
What's amazing is that the original idea, reported Kiel, stemmed from a Halloween costume he'd made. Someone saw that, asked him to help their high school students do the same. They did it, got excited; then a large corporation saw it and had Kiel come and make cardboard robots for them. All this prompted Kiel to begin working in a new project, with some cardboard (a cityscape), which he shared on social media, someone saw it and invited him to a TED conference. There he turned it into a community art project, and other people invited him to their countries to help their people create art based on their cities. Just writing it out now I'm struck by how fitting the contagion metaphor truly is.
All this got me thinking about (well, a lot of things, but in particular) why I create and offer photography classes (as opposed to only teaching through other venues, which would be simpler). It's much easier to show up, teach, and go home. But when I craft a class for you I get to cough all over you. We have the time and space to stop what were talking about, go on a mini-assignment to capture something. We can break up into pairs so those who need a little more attention from me for a moment can get it. We can imagine together what we might photograph next. And because we go about learning this way, you get to cough all over me and everyone else there. We learn together.
Ah! I'm so excited. I can't wait for our next photo time together: Saturday, March 26 from 2pm-4pm, where we're going to explore the more creative aspects of photography. If you want to come get coughed on, dust your camera off and register today, or click below to learn more.